So, you’ve started hitting the gym to build some muscles and keep your physique in tip-top shape. Deadlifts seem to be one of the indispensable parts of any workout session that may also seem scary. But can you skip them, and are they even worth the risk?
Deadlifts can be worthwhile if you treat them as a resistance training exercise to build strength. But if you want to build muscles, it’s better to avoid them. They drain your energy and lead to injury. Plus, they target several muscles at a time, failing to isolate and force them to grow.
Read on to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of deadlifts and if they’re worth the risk of injury and the added pressure.
What is a conventional deadlift?
If you want to work your hips and back out more, a conventional deadlift is something you want to try. For a conventional deadlift, your stance is narrower, forcing you to engage more muscles. This deadlift variation also allows you to lift more weight.
Pros of deadlifts
Deadlifts can be rewarding as one of the most popular whole-body workouts, depending on your purpose. Here are the main benefits:
Deadlifting is one of the crucial movements for building strength and getting prepared for several athletic purposes. It’s a compound exercise that targets multiple muscles at the same time. So, you can develop stronger muscles in your lower back, upper back, and legs because you target all of these muscles.
It’s a full-body workout that engages all parts of your body, including your biceps and shoulders, quads, and glutes. Deadlifts can improve vertical jumps in athletes while increasing muscular force.
You’ll also have a stronger core because, during deadlifts, your core braces hard to maintain your spine’s balance. A strong core, combined with stronger legs and lower back, improves posture.
Functional and medical benefits
Deadlifts can be a great functional workout by making your muscles stronger. So, you’ll reduce the risk of injury and improve your performance while doing everyday activities, such as lifting heavy objects off the floor.
Research has also shown that deadlifts can help patients who have undergone bariatric surgery recover faster. Another study found that deadlifts, as a part of a resistance training program, led to increased bone density in young men and women.
Since you engage lots of muscles while doing deadlifts, you’ll burn more calories than other movements targeting the same muscles, even running.
According to research, deadlifts can burn a maximum of 60 calories in the Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) alone. It’s the process in which the body burns calories to return to its pre-workout state.
They will lead to higher fat loss, which means you can incorporate deadlifts into your workout routine and diet if you want to lose weight.
Improve core strength
Deadlifts improve core strength and teach you to brace your core for other exercises. Other exercises you can do with improved core strength include a bench press, overhead press, and single-leg deadlifts. The core is what facilitates movement.
Achieve enhanced endurance
Deadlifts are more for strength than conditioning but can also increase muscular and cardiovascular endurance. You can achieve this by increasing the number of reps you do and decreasing the amount of rest time you take between sets. You will find yourself tired out after just a few high rep sets because deadlifts engage so many muscles.
Deadlifts can also improve your posture because they keep your spine, shoulders, and hips aligned. To do a deadlift, you need to have the proper form. To accomplish this, the shoulders should be squeezed back, your spine needs to be straight, and your hips mobile. All of this results in better posture. Bad posture can lead to back pain.
Improved grip strength
To do a deadlift, you need a great deal of strength because you have to hold a lot of weight as you lift. So, this will improve your grip strength. You can also use lifting straps during your deadlifts if you aren’t looking to improve grip strength.
Cons of deadlifts
But deadlifts have some disadvantages that make them completely useless or even harmful.
Ineffective muscle targeting
Deadlift aficionados praise it as a movement that targets many muscles simultaneously. Hamstrings, glutes, trapezius, and the back muscles are some of the muscles that deadlifts work. Although that’s not wrong, the targeting isn’t that effective.
The main reason is that a movement that targets many muscles simultaneously doesn’t necessarily lead to muscle gain and development. That’s because when multiple muscles are involved, the workload gets divided among all of them, none receiving enough pressure to grow.
What’s more, you can work all these muscles through less intense, isolating moves that aren’t as harmful to your back. So, if you want to work your glutes, it’s better to focus on squats or do good mornings for your hamstrings.
These isolating exercises stretch the target muscles to their full extent, stimulating them to grow. Conversely, deadlifting doesn’t engage the targeted muscles long enough to make a difference in creating progressive tension through a full range of motion.
Poor control during the eccentric phase
Any workout that involves muscle contraction has two phases: the concentric phase (in which the muscles shorten) and the eccentric phase (where the muscles lengthen). These phases in the deadlift include when you lift the barbell (concentric) and when you lower it back to the ground (eccentric).
The eccentric phase is crucial in muscle growth because that’s when the muscle experiences the highest level of force. Research has shown the influence of the eccentric loading phase on reducing injury and improving muscle function and growth.
That said, most people who do deadlifts don’t control this phase. They miss the opportunity to train their muscles in the eccentric phase by dropping the barbell when they lift it.
Even if they do control the phase by lowering the barbell, they can’t maintain proper form. They should push their hips back to place maximum pressure on their glutes and hamstrings. Instead, they bend their knees and torso, targeting their lower back.
Improper body mechanics
Even if you have bad form while deadlifting, you are still moving a good amount of weight. If you continue deadlifting with improper form, you aren’t using the right muscles, are not engaging your lats, and are failing to stabilize your hips and spine. This can put intense stress on your lower back and increase your risk of injury. So, to continue deadlifting, you need to learn solid body mechanics to build muscle more optimally.
Start with the right setup, pull to emphasize your posterior chain, control the eccentric, and avoid bouncing. Reset with every rep, or don’t lower the bar all the way back down to the floor. Instead, stop about half an inch above the ground.
Here’s how to do deadlifts with proper form:
It can do more harm than good if you don’t have the proper form when deadlifting.
So, you now know that deadlifts aren’t that necessary in your workout routine if you want to build larger muscles. The most important problem with deadlifts is that it puts your whole body under significant strain by engaging so many muscle groups at the same time.
That’s why doing deadlifts at the beginning of your workout routine could leave you tired because it drains your energy. So, your performance may suffer, and you can’t get the most out of your exercises. This fatigue, in turn, may make you need more time to recover and decrease the number of weekly sessions you can work out.
Another problem is that you can’t do deadlifts if you have lower back pain and injury. Although research has shown that deadlifts can help reduce mild mechanical lower back pain, you may worsen your pain in other situations.
It may be due to the improper execution of the movement or its strain on your back. That’s even worse when some lifters may ignore the alarming signs just because they think they have to do deadlifts as an essential part of their routine.
Any discomfort should be a sign that may lead to injuries, and you should consider stopping the movements if it’s not safe for you.
Alternatives to conventional deadlifts
If you decide that deadlifts aren’t your way to build muscles but insist on doing them anyway, you could try alternatives to the traditional deadlifts. Here are the main ones you can try out during your next personal training session or in your commercial gym:
In sumo deadlift, you should place your feet wider than you shoulder-width apart and put your hands inside your feet. This way, you can have a wider range of motion by emphasizing quads and hips. Thus, you can minimize the pressure on your lower back.
Plus, you need to turn your feet at least 45 degrees outward during sumo deadlifts, giving you more leverage due to the activation of the inner thighs.
Sumo deadlifts are also perfect for beginners who have been sedentary for a long time and want to incorporate deadlifts into their workout programs.
Trap bar or hex bar deadlift
You can improve back issues and hip mobility during a trap bar deadlift. The hexagonal shape of the bar allows you to center your body and align your hips. Trap bar deadlifts also work out your quadriceps better than a conventional deadlift.
Stiff Leg Deadlift
A stiff leg deadlift or straight leg deadlift, as it is also commonly known, is a strength training exercise you can do that changes the form of the conventional deadlift. When engaging in a stiff leg deadlift, you use posterior chain muscles, including the glutes, calves, lats, and hamstrings.
Stiff leg deadlifts are harder than traditional deadlifts because the hips are in a higher position, and there is a lack of knee flexion. If you have limited hamstring mobility or inferior posterior strength, a stiff leg deadlift will be harder for you.
With Romanian deadlifts, you need to hinge forward by bending your torso. That means you don’t bend the knees, and you should maintain stiff legs throughout the entire movement.
It targets the hamstrings and glutes more effectively by stretching them more fully. But since your leverage isn’t as good as the conventional deadlift, you’ll place your body in a weaker position. That means you can lift less weight but will build more muscles.
Rack deadlift is less energy-draining and helps you maintain good form more easily. You can build muscles in your mid-back because it loads the back muscles. Plus, it has a short range of motion, which places less stress on the nervous system.
Since you lift the barbell from the rack, you’ll eliminate the part in which you lift it from the floor, shortening the range of motion.
Rack pull needs a rack and a barbell. So, if you want to do rack pulls at your home gym, check out this pack available on amazon.
Single Leg Deadlift
A single leg deadlift is a simple and effective exercise used to strengthen and tone your butt muscles while improving balance. You can use a kettlebell or dumbbell to do a single leg deadlift. You don’t even have to use weight if you are a beginner. It can be included in your lower body strength and toning routine.
Deadlifts are a compound exercise that can benefit you in many ways. Apart from making you look tough, they can help you build stronger muscles as resistance training exercises.
However, the emphasis that many trainers and workout programs place on deadlifts may not be proportionate to their real benefits.
All movements can lead to injuries if you perform them wrong, but deadlifts have higher risks of injury due to their pressure on the entire body. And things can get even worse if you use a mixed grip. The rotational force created by a mixed grip can strain the knees, spine, biceps, and hips.
Overall, it’s safe to say that deadlifts can be worthwhile depending on your purpose. If you want to build strength and improve your functional performance, you can rely on deadlifts. But they can’t be a good move if you want to build muscles because they’re not as effective as other isolating exercises.
And if you have joint problems, it’s better to avoid deadlifts altogether since you don’t want to strain them further. You wouldn’t miss much anyway unless you want to look like a badass.
Deciding on whether deadlifts are worth it or not depends on your purpose. If you want to deadlift just for the sake of becoming a lifter, it’s fine. Or, if you want to increase your resistance and use it as a functional exercise, it can be beneficial.
But they say if you want to use just one machine at the gym, use deadlifts. That’s because deadlifts target many muscles at a time, which also means you can’t grow muscles since the force is divided among them.